The next morning we departed the mountains for the desert dunes. The drive down was spectacular with cloud banks throughout the mountain valleys.
I had not expected Oman to be so beautiful!
One of the couples had to leave a day early so we lost a car. In the resulting shuffle we ended up in car #12 for the day. Our new driver was full of oohs and aahs over the clouds so I gather they aren't common.
As we reached the bottom of the mountain, we passed a massive run-away-truck ramp. The road was steep enough and long enough that it wouldn't be surprising that brakes would fail.
We stopped for a bio-break at the checkpoint station at the base of the mountain. The guards there made sure that all the cars headed up had 4WD. We also suspect that they checked to see that they were in reasonable condition otherwise.
The brown sign had a long list of prohibitions, most of which were geared toward respecting the privacy and possessions of the residents.
The checkpoint included a small mosque and the ladies' room had an ablution facility for worshippers.
Our next stop was to get gas. The filling station, which was a Shell, had plenty of pumps for our motorcade. It adjoined a small strip mall with a coffee shop and a variety of auto-related businesses, e.g., tire sales and upholstery repair.
As we drove through the desert we passed brand-new villages springing up in the wilderness. Our driver explained that a few years ago there was nothing here, then a house would appear then another. Eventually the area would be completely built up.
Building sites are assigned by lottery and a would-be home builder will not necessarily get a building site where the family wanted -- although priority is given to keeping extended families in the same area. If the location wasn't suitable, after a few years the land could be sold or traded for one in a preferred area. At least that was the way we interpreted the various explanations.
Houses generally had the same basic structure, but the decoration was limited only by the imagination of the owner. We saw fanciful variations.
As we got closer to our destination in the Wahiba sands we began to see free-range camels along the road in addition to the ever-present goats. Oman is a major center for breeding racing camels and our guide said that some of these animals could be quite valuable.
I never saw any horses in Oman but there are many there and the sultan has encouraged the reintroduction of pure-bred Arabians.
The plaquard in the background was another common sight: a poster of Sultan Qaboos. These posters, some building sized, uniformly included an image of him in military regalia as well as the more fatherly image. Unlike most signs there was no English translation of the Arabic slogan and I never thought to ask what it said.
Our last stop before entering the dunes was one to let air out of the tires for better traction in the soft desert sands.
Even in the shadow of the dunes we found lush irrigated fields.
And the inevitable free-range goats.
There was surprisingly little road-kill although I did see a couple of goat casualties and one of our guides said he saw a deceased camel.
Like the mountain villagers many Bedouin have moved into modern homes on the edge of the desert. They keep their animals on the outskirts and are rumored to be quite wealthy -- mostly based on the trade in racing camels.
We were told that many, however, still cling to the ancient nomadic ways and spend at least part of the year roaming the desert.
We expected to make a "home visit "with a Bedouin family. As it happened, we visited what appeared to be their "shop" and had ample opportunity to purchase a variety of hand-made goods and trinkets. The encampment was located between the dunes and the oasis village.
I eventually struck a bargain for a burqa to add to my Arabian Native Costume regalia in case I ever compete in that class again at a horse show. Since all I had was a $20 bill, I took my change in tassels. One of the tassels is now decorating my fiddle!
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